I’ve been going back and forth over whether there’s actually an education bubble in this country. I used to be a solid no. Then I went to “maybe.” Reading back posts from the blog EduBubble made me want to switch to yes, but today I’m not so sure.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the most common education bubble argument would be that students will wise up to the fact that all their money goes to athletics, administrative salaries and wine and cheese parties for the professors. To make matters worse, even if they pay the exorbitant cost of tuition there may be no job waiting for them when they’re done.
OK, then explain this (via Yglesias):
The more education you have, the less likely you are to be unemployed. So while higher education may be a gamble, no higher education is a worse gamble. Even if you score a job straight out of high school, what’s your lifetime income potential going to be if you aren’t Mark Zuckerberg?
The thing is, I can’t shake the feeling that there is something bubbly about higher education these days. My new tentative theory is this: There’s not a higher education bubble, there’s a student bubble. At first my evidence has been entirely anecdotal. How many college presidents do you know whose plan to save the campus is to double enrollment? Publicly traded for-profit colleges have that plan embedded in their DNA. If state funding isn’t coming back, then the public schools will have to increase enrollment to keep the same campus experience as before. To get there, they invest in climbing walls rather than faculty.
But they can’t get all of them, can they? This is the first actual evidence I’ve seen that my theory might be right:
[I]n sharp contrast to the competitive admissions landscape at some colleges, hundreds of other universities struggle every year to fill their freshman classes. For some of those institutions, the sluggish economy has only added to the challenge of completing the freshman class.
That means that those high school seniors unhappy with their college choices, or beginning their college search late in the academic year, could still end up somewhere terrific that may not yet be on their radar.
A good place to begin such a search would be the annual “Space Availability Survey” from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which was released on the organization’s Web site today.
It lists more than 280 institutions that, according to Nacac, told the organization that they at least had limited room in this fall’s freshman class, and in some instances quite a bit of room. The list, which is alphabetical and easy to search (as well as convert to an Excel file) ranges from Agnes Scott College in Georgia to Youngstown State in Ohio, and covers a wide geographical area, from the University of Southern Maine to Florida State University to the University of Washington at Tacoma.
This theory of mine is definitely a work in progress, so any constructive criticism or additional evidence would be much appreciated.
Update: Of course, as soon as I hit “publish,” I find this.